A young mum of four cannot afford to feed her children, including her five month old baby, due to the chaos surrounding the Government’s handling of the child tax credits, it was claimed this week.
The distressed mum is among several who have inundated Burnley’s MP Julie Cooper’s office after Concentrix, an American based firm contracted by the Government to “cut overpayment and investigate possible tax credit fraud” stopped her payments.
Because of this she can no longer receive “Healthy Start” vouchers issued to buy milk for her baby and free school meals for her older children have been stopped as they are triggered by the receipt of child tax credit.
Mrs Cooper slammed the situation as “appalling” and branded the Government’s handling of the tax credit system as “an absolute shambles.”
She said: “This is a disgraceful state of affairs. Many families in my constituency, some of whom struggle to make ends meet as it is, have had their child tax credit cut for the most ridiculous of reasons.
“In several cases parents have been accused of living with people but clearly don’t. When we have investigated the person named is, in fact, the landlord or previous tenant. The burden of proof is placed on the claimant to prove that someone they don’t know doesn’t live with them which, of course, is almost impossible to do.
“The tax credit department is extremely difficult to contact by phone and we are receiving complaint after complaint about people being promised a call back with information which never happens.”
Mrs Cooper also pointed out that families in Burnley and Padiham are suffering even further hardship as it takes up to 45 working days to respond to a appeal for a mandatory reconsideration because of the back log.
Mrs Cooper added: “This is causing families who were just about holding their heads above water to go under.”
The situation has become so desperate that a Facebook campaign group called Concentrix Mums has been set up so that affected parents can offer each other with support and also with baby milk and nappies.
It has attracted 8,000 members and one teenage mum hit the headlines when her payments were stopped after she was wrongly accused of being married to a 74-year-old dead man.
Mrs Cooper added: “One mum came to my office had asked Concentrix how she could pay for her children’s school meals ater her child tax credits were stopped.
“She was told by a Concentrix employee that she had ‘better go to a food bank or phone social services if she couldn’t look after her children.’
“This is outrageous.”
The controversial company was taken on by the Government on a “payment by results” basis in May. A £75M deal was struck aimed at trying to save the Government more than £1bn in incorrect or fraudulent tax credit payments.
But last week it was announced that its contract will not be renewed due to a failure to meet performance standards.
A team of 150 HMRC staff have now been drafted in to address the backlog that has built up due to the complaints.
Mrs Cooper added: “The Government should immediately intervene and insist that these spurious accusations are dropped.
“Payments should be reinstated to struggling families and a complete review of the child tax credit system undertaken.
A spokesman for the HMRC said: “We want to reassure customers who have had their tax credits stoped that we will prioritise their cases and make sure that they are processed as quickly as possible.”